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THE Stationers' Registers contain the following memorandum concerning this tragedy, under the date, November 26th, 1607; "Na. Butter and Jo. Busby] Entered for their copie under t' hands of Sir Geo. Bucke, Kt. and the Wardens, a booke called Mr. Willm Shakespeare his Hystorye of Kinge Lear, as yt was played before the King's Majestie at Whitehall, upon St. Stephen's night at Christmas last, by his Majesties servants playing usually at the Globe on the Bank-side." which proves that it was acted at court, on the 26th of December 1606. In 1608, no less than three editions of it in quarto were issued, all by the same stationer. One of these is intituled,-"Mr. William Shak-speare: His True Chronicle Historie of the life and death of King Lear and his three daughters. With the vnfortunate life of Edgar, sonne and heire to the Earle of Gloster, and his sullen and assumed humorr of Tom of Bedlam. As it was played before the kings Maiestie at Whitehall upon S. Stephens night in Christmas Hollidayes. By his Maiesties seruants playing vsually at the Gloabe, on the Bancke-side.-London, printed for Nathaniel Butter, and are to be sold at his shop in Pauls Churchyard at the signe of the Pide Bull neere St. Austins Gate. 1608."
The two other impressions are described as,- "M. William Shakespeare, His True Chronicle History of the life and death of King Lear, and his three Daughters. With the vnfortunate life of Edgar, sonne and heire to the Earle of Glocester, and his sullen and assumed humour of Tom of Bedlam. As it was plaid before the Kings Maiesty at White-hall, vppon S. Stephens night in Christmas Hollidaies. By his Maiesties Seruants, playing vsually at the Globe, on the Banck-side.-Printed for Nathaniel Butter. 1608."
No other edition of "King Lear" has been discovered, prior to that of the folio 1623, which differs materially from the text of the quartos, chiefly in the omission of large portions of matter found in the latter, in numberless minute verbal changes, and also by the addition of about fifty lines peculiar to itself. The omissions appear to have been made for the better adapting the piece to representation, and a careful comparison of the quarto and folio texts convinces us that, unlike that of Richard III., the text of Lear in the folio is taken from a later and revised copy of the play. Whether the curtailment is the work of the author, it is impossible
now to determine; it is not always judicious, and some of the substitutions are inferior to the language they displace; yet, on the other hand, the additions which we meet with in the folio bear the undoubted mark of Shakespeare's mint, and while the metrical arrangement of the speeches in that edition has been carefully regarded, the text of the quartos is printed in parts without any observance of prosodial construction. With respect to the date of its composition, Steevens remarks, that King Lear, or at least the whole of it, could not have been written till after the publication of Harsnet's Discovery of Popish Impostures, in 1603, because the names of the fiends mentioned by Edgar are borrowed from that work.
The story of King Lear and his daughters was so popular in Shakespeare's time, that he may have taken it from Geoffrey of Monmouth; from the legend "How Queene Cordila in dispaire slew her selfe, The yeare before Christ 800," in the "Mirror for Magistrates;" from Spenser's "Fairie Queene," b. ii. c. x.; or, from Holinshed. There was, indeed, an old anonymous play on the subject, an edition of which was put forth in 1605, under the title of "The True Chronicle History of King Leir, and his Three Daughters, Gonorill, Ragan, and Cordella:" mainly in consequence it would seem of the great popularity of the present drama then "running" at the Globe theatre; the publishers probably trusting to foist the elder production upon the public as Shakespeare's work; but from this piece he appears to have derived nothing, unless, perhaps, some hint for the character of Kent.
The episode of Gloucester and his two sons was probably founded on Book II. chap. x. of Sidney's Arcadia, "The pitifull state and storie of the Paphlagonian unkinde king, and his kind sonne;" &c. which together with the legend of "Queene Cordilla," from "The Mirror for Magistrates," are reprinted in Mr. Collier's "Shakespeare's Library," Vol. II.
SCENE I.-A Room of State in King Lear's Palace.
Enter KENT, GLOUCESTER, and EDMUND.
KENT. I thought the king had more affected the duke of Albany a than Cornwall.
GLO. It did always seem so to us: but now, in the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the dukes he values most; for equalities are so weighed, that curiosity in neither can make choice of either's moiety.b
KENT. Is not this your son, my lord?
GLO. His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge: I have so often blushed to acknowledge him, that now I am brazed to 't.
KENT. I cannot conceive you.
GLO. Sir, this young fellow's mother could: whereupon she grew round-wombed; and had, indeed, sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?
KENT. I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it being so proper.
GLO. But I have, sir, a son† by order of law, some year elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account: though this knave came something saucily into the world before he was sent for, yet was his mother fair; there was good sport at his making, and the whoreson must be acknowledged. Do you know this noble gentleman, Edmund?
EDM. No, my lord.
GLO. My lord of Kent: remember him hereafter as my honourable friend.
EDM. My services to your lordship.
KENT. I must love you, and sue to know you better.
EDM. Sir, I shall study deserving.
GLO. He hath been out nine years, and away he shall again. The king is coming.
[Trumpets sound without.
Enter LEAR, CORNWALL, ALBANY, GONERIL, REGAN, CORDELIA,
LEAR. Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, Gloster.
GLO. I shall, my liege.
[Exeunt GLOUCESTER and EDMUND.
LEAR. Meantime we shall express our darker purpose.—
(*) First folio, qualities. (†) First folio, a Sonne, Sir. (*) First folio, to.
Albany-] Scotland was anciently called Albany.
-can make choice of either's moiety.] "The qualities and properties of the several divisions are so weighed and balanced against one another, that the exactest scrutiny could not determine in preferring one share to the other."-WARBURTON. * Darker purpose.-] Secret, hidden purpose.